Other Intelligence – Discovery and Contact
Question: Is it possible to prove that our universe is egocentric?
Answer: Yes. If you want to know how, read on....
“Out of all the cats in the world, do you really think for one moment that yours happens to be the only one which is capable of having kittens?”
Humanity is now master of the Earth. Its tools now have the capacity to transform huge sections of the planet with relative ease, and to cause the extinction of all life, should that ever be desired.
The social evolution of Humanity led it to ponder many questions of diverse natures which eventually led to the desire to know an answer to the question, “Are there other intelligences in this world, or in this universe, which could be considered equal or greater to ours?” To this day, no answer can be provided to a question which has occupied men and women since the very first human civilisations were founded more than 5000 years ago.
One of the most powerful ideas to have been produced by scientists in the relatively recent past is the assumption of mediocrity, where it is held that the Earth and its surroundings (i.e. the structure of the sun and the solar system) is typical of any other region of the universe. Accepting this, one can go on to state that since an “intelligent” (as yet undefined) life form evolved on Earth, it should in principle be possible for a similar creature to be produced on an Earth type planet on the far side of the universe.
Though apparently sound, one can rapidly run into problems by pushing this logic too far. A comparatively recent realisation is that evolution is opportunistically random and not foresighted. Thus, if it is for a moment assumed that deep in our evolutionary past there was a certain random characteristic introduced into our genome, without which “intelligence” could not develop, then it could be concluded from this argument that “intelligence” as we know it is an extremely unlikely occurrence. The major problem at present is that the steps leading to the development of human intelligence are not at all well understood..
Perhaps a definition of what is meant by “intelligence” is now in order. First of all, let it be assumed for the moment it we are dealing with living and not artificial (i.e. computer) intelligence. A living system can be defined as any self-reproducing and mutating system which reproduces its mutations and which exercises some amount of control over its environment. Also, according to A.A. Liapunov of the former USSR, all living systems share the characteristic that they have the ability to transmit small quantities of energy or materials containing a relatively large volume of information through certain prescribed channels. Now, what makes a particular life form. “Intelligent”? Unfortunately, there is no all-encompassing, or exact answer to this question. A definition can only be made in terms of the observed, or the expected characteristics of such intelligence. One apparently outstanding characteristic of intelligent life forms is that they actively strive to control ever increasing portions of their environment, a trait all too obvious in humanity. On Earth, there seems to be some sort of connection between brain mass and intelligence, and to the magnitude of the ratio of brain mass to total body mass. Using this interpretation, then dolphins can be considered intelligent beings. These mammals are able to make very large numbers of apparently complex sounds, and recent experimental work has indicated that they can be taught to count, and to solve relatively complex problems. Indeed, some experimenters believe that some form of low-level communication will be possible with dolphins in the near future. One nagging question remains, however: Can these animals think in the human sense? But what exactly is “thinking”?
One mistake, which was often made by early anthropologists, was the assumption that if a particular group or society, be it human or otherwise, was in a primitive non-technological state at the same time that another society was advancing rapidly through the technical phase, then the former was unlikely to advance to any great degree completely independently of the latter.
It may well be that dolphins could have developed a technical civilisation, if only they had the necessary manipulative of abilities. Dr. Stephen Hawking is considered to be one of the world’s leading experts on relativistic astrophysics. Few would doubt for a moment that he is “intelligent”. Yet, due to a progressive degenerative disorder, he is capable of little or no manipulative skill, so it would be impossible for him to actively take part in the development of a technical civilisation. This may in fact be the exact problem faced by the dolphins. The best that they can do is to develop a form of pure logical abstract thought, free of the burdens of practical application, except perhaps for communication among their own kind. It may well be that technical pursuits, and the possession of the urge to expand and control are the mark of a relatively low form of intelligence in this universe, and that truly advanced beings would have long ago abandoned these for other activities.
Dr. Richard Leakey has spent a large portion of his life searching for the origins of man in East Africa. He reported that his research indicated that very little change in head structure occurred in the first humanoids until the ability to walk upright was mastered. Once this was achieved, the hands were no longer needed for locomotion and could therefore be used for manipulation and active investigation of the environment. Fossil evidence indicates that all the developments which eventually led to Homo sapiens only followed the freeing of the hands. This would indicate that the development of intelligence is dependent on the possession of a viable manipulative organ. However, the question must remain open whether or not a species can develop a level of intelligence without the benefits of a means to directly manipulate their environment.
On Earth, the fundamental unit of brain tissue in intelligent living beings is the neuron. It is found that the neurons of the more highly- developed creatures are of the same mass as those of lower ones, but they simply have many more of them. Thus, if the neuron is the universal method used to store information in intelligent beings, then it follows that beings which are several times more intelligent than ourselves must by necessity be several times as massive.
But it is most unlikely that the neuron has gained anywhere near universal acceptance, as there are many other possible ways to store information which could be employed by alien intelligences. One possibility of this is to encode information at the molecular level. Individual molecules made up of a very large number of atoms could be made to act as stable physical information storage and transmission centres. In such molecules, if a different energy state were desired by the living being controlling the process, then the molecule would have to be raised to a new energy level different enough from the original state, so that the possibility of random transitions between the two levels, due to thermal, or other sources would be negligible. This means that it is possible that beings far more advanced than ourselves could exist on what we consider to be the microscopic level.
There can be little question that advanced forms of intelligent life could arise on a different chemical basis, and in environments hostile to terrestrial organisms. The possibilities are almost endless, and much work has been done by many different authors on the problem of different biochemistries is which could exist. As an example, J.B.S. Haldane put forward the suggestion that a life chemistry could evolve which depended on ammonia, rather than water for its existence, and Sir Spencer Jones put forward the notion that in certain high-temperature environments, silicon could take on the role that carbon plays in earth-based life forms. If intelligence is to develop, the particular scheme for life evolution must be restricted to a relatively narrow range of temperatures, because all life (apparently) requires labile molecules, which, though on the edge of instability, are still able to maintain themselves in a stable configuration. This provides the basis for metabolism. The choice of molecules depends on the temperature range available, because if the temperature rises too high, instability results, and if it sinks too low, over stability is the undesirable effect.
Another important consideration is the presence of a suitable solvent. Suitability means that it must be abundant on the particular planet, it must be a good heat & electrical insulator, it must have a high dielectric constant, a high specific heat for thermal stability, and a relatively low viscosity. Ammonia satisfies all the requirements to some degree, so that would be possible for intelligent life to prosper between the temperatures of -77.7°C and -33.4°C.
The main problem with life existing at very low temperatures is that the time frame to accomplish certain tasks would be greatly expanded. Thus, communications with such life forms would be extremely slow. In fact, it could take years for an intelligent being at -70°C to transmit one bit of information. At the same time, our own transmissions would supersaturate their limited information absorption capabilities. Needless to say, though the discovery of such life would be exciting, continued contact would be a frustrating experience.
Communication of some form or another appears to be an important characteristic of living beings. In the past, it was believed that the human ability to speak set humans apart as intelligent beings, while the chimpanzee’s inability to do so set them as inferior beings incapable of any form of advanced communication. It is now known that chimps cannot be taught to speak because they are physically incapable of doing so. In recent years, a great deal of experimental work has been done in order to determine if primates could be taught synthetic communication systems, such as for example, deaf sign language. Results have been most exciting, as the most aspiring chimps have learned hundreds of words, and have consistently demonstrated the ability to use them properly, a skill once believed to be only present in humans.
Intelligence involves much more than the learning of facts and detailed actions. It essentially involves the ability to apply principles or modes of action in situations which are unique, and that had not been learned on a previous occasion. Thus communication by an intelligent being cannot be considered to be a fixed sequence of actions taken in relation to a static situation (such as the speech of a parrot), but rather it involves the shaping of actions as a means of attaining an end, and of adapting activities to the exigencies and specific conditions in effect at that particular moment. Intelligent communication appears to depend on a being’s ability to store in memory some “program” relating to what has been done in the past, to what still remains to be done in the future if some desired end is to be attained.
We would like to believe that somewhere in the universe there are creatures which could be considered are in intellectual equals. Even though the probability of the emergence of intelligence and technical civilisations cannot be accurately determined, it appears that such developments could be a likely, and even a common phenomena. Examinations must be conducted between two extremes; where on one hand the probability is equal to 1 and that there are potentially billions of planetary systems supporting life in our galaxy, with perhaps several million advanced technical civilisations consisting of intelligent beings, and on the other, that the only “intelligence” in the galaxy is found here on Earth.
Assuming the existence of some advanced, extra-terrestrial intelligence, we can only guess at its character. For example, the same or similar discoveries which have been made on earth would be known, but these would almost certainly not have been made in the same sequence. However, this would not diminish the possibility that direct communication contact would be possible with another intelligence in the galaxy.
Investigations have shown that the bulk of main sequence stars towards the centre of our galaxy are older than our sun. This could imply that the majority of the technical civilisations in the galaxy are more advanced than that on earth. According to the Russian astrophysicist N.S. Kardashev, intelligent life can be classed as belonging to advanced civilisations of three major types: (a) Those which are similar to present terrestrial development; (b) Those able to control energies corresponding to the radiation output of a star, and; (c) Those able to work with powers equal to the luminosity of the whole galaxy.
It is indeed unfortunate that should contact be made with other intelligence by means of a two-way interstellar link, then even a simple exchange of information could take several thousand years, because of the comparative slowness of the speed of electromagnetic radiation in free space.
If in fact other intelligence actually exists at distances of between 10 and 20 light years from us, a full out effort to establish contact at this time would be justified. If, however, civilisations comparable to our own are only present at a minimum distance of 1000 light years or greater, then such a project would not be worthwhile with existing technology, because of the smallness of the chances of success.
The mathematician, H. Freudenthal, designed an artificial language which he claims is free from inconsistencies, because it is built up totally in terms of semantics. This language, known as Lincos, consists of a coded system of units which are progressively synthetic. Thus the language would be ideal as a linguistic introduction to an interstellar transmission to some other intelligence. The transmission would start with the most fundamental concepts in logic and math, and would progress to advanced calculus, and the most difficult of all to convey, human emotions such as humour, love, or hate. It is most important that any language used with the contact of other intelligence be completely free of syntax, phonemics, or exceptions to grammatical rules.
It has been suggested by R. Bracewell that perhaps the best method of making contact with other intelligence would be with automatic interstellar probes, sent into orbit around a large number of the nearest stars. There are many advantages of this method. Assuming the instrumentation and equipment can be powered by the local star, the signal from the probe would be stronger, and would only have to travel a much smaller distance then one from Earth. The probe would not have to operate on a specific wavelength in order to avoid interstellar interference, and contact could be made even if the target civilisation was not conducting an extensive search for extra-planetary intelligence of its own.
It is suggested that once the probe were in orbit around the star, it would check for synthetic radio transmissions, and these, if detected, would be retransmitted unaltered back to Earth for analysis, and back to their source, so that the probe could be detected by the parent civilisation. Two-way contact with the probe could follow, leading to eventual two-way contact between Earth and the other civilisation.
There can be little doubt that regardless of the message sent, or the method used, there will always be limitations involved the use of electromagnetic radiation to contact other intelligence. Consequently, many other methods have been suggested, such as the use of neutrino beams, electronic probes, nuclear probes (communication by mass spectroscopy), or even biological probes (communication by coding the genetic material of viral organisms). There are many other possibilities. Whatever the method of communication used, they are all based on the assumption that the “other intelligence” has not the same, but at least similar thought processes to us. The prejudice we have towards certain lines of reasoning may be so deeply embedded in our evolutionary past that nothing we could do would completely remove all of the biased assumptions from the chosen method of communication. This perhaps is the penalty for billions of years of independent evolution. The degree to which this problem can be minimised will only be seen if and when the first contact with other intelligence is made.
All of the aforementioned methods of establishing contact have a number of significant disadvantages. For example, no contact can be made with an intelligent but pre-technical civilisation, direct investigation of non-intelligent life or alien physical phenomena would not be possible, and no exchange of material goods could be carried out. All of these disadvantages can be overcome by the use of manned interstellar spacecraft. However, the problems involved with such a proposal are several orders of magnitude more difficult. For example, the time required for a round trip to a planet located at a distance of 300 light years away from Earth at non-relativistic speeds would be about 1000 years. Some form of biological preservation would be needed. It is quite possible that successive generations of crew could be used, but it appears that when the spacecraft returned to Earth, nothing, or no one could be left to greet them. The ethics of such a situation are as yet uninvestigated.
One further consideration can be directed at the relatively unexplored area of the consequences of direct contact. Earlier it was shown that, in all probability, any “other intelligence” encountered would be from a civilisation far more advanced than our own. As a precedent to what would be the results of such contact, we have only to look at similar situations in humanity’s history. The decimation of the North American Indian, the Sack of Mexico, the rape of the Incas, and the systematic extermination of primitive peoples around the globe, certainly does not give us much confidence in our first contact with a technologically superior civilisation. However, it can be hoped that at some point in its evolution, a civilisation loses its desire to dominate, exploit, and convert more primitive beings.
in his 1968 paper on cosmology, B. Carter questioned if any life could have arisen anywhere in the universe if any of the “universal” constants had taken on slightly different values when the universe was being formed. R.H. Kicke stressed that it is improper to say: “Here is the universe, so what form does intelligent life take?” The proper question is more likely to be: “Here is an intelligent being, so what form does universe take?” He also added the following lines of reasoning:
(a) What good is a universe without an awareness of that universe?
(b) Awareness of the universe requires life.
(c) Life demands the existence of elements heavier than hydrogen.
(d) The existence of elements heavier than hydrogen requires thermonuclear combustion in a star.
(e) Thermonuclear combustion requires at least 109 years of stellar gravitational collapse.
(f) 109 years is not available in a closed universe unless the radius at maximum expansion is greater than 109 light-years.
(g) This leads to the following unsettling conclusion:
Q: Why is the universe as big as it is?
A: So that intelligent life can be here to contemplate it.
Conclusion: Our universe must be egocentric. (QED)